"Look, look, look at the wiener dog eating the wieners!" I squealed. It was the week before Easter and I was driving around Albuquerque with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Sam and Jake are 13 and 8 years old, respectively, but their father, my mother's baby brother, is barely 14 years older than I am. So technically I'm their cousin, but in

practice I'm more like an eccentric aunt.

I accept this role with pleasure, and I took great delight in making sure my cousins saw the most important sights in New Mexico, like the Dog House Drive-In. Located on an otherwise uninteresting strip of Central Avenue between Old Town and downtown, the Dog House beckons hungry diners with a fabulous vintage neon sign featuring a dachshund whose fluorescent tail wags as he appears to eat a long string of flickering hot dogs. It's awesome. "They have tater coins," I told Sam and Jake.

This 40-year-old icon seems not to have changed one bit since it opened. It's called a drive-in, but there's also a teeny-weeny little dining room with just a couple of tables and a short counter. The Dog House's specialty is the chile dog, a butterflied hot dog smothered with meaty red chile sauce. Extra red chile is best mopped up with a handful of crisp, golden tater coins. Yes, this is the kind of meal that makes you feel 8 years old all over again.

Anyway, the relatives had barely been gone a few days when I decided to thumb through a stack of recently published cookbooks I was considering for review.

The Great American Hot Dog Book

, which was published this month by Gibbs Smith (paperback, $12.95), caught my eye with its bright-red cover bearing a mouthwatering image of a mustard-streaked wiener. Lying next to the dog, hugging the bun, is what appeared at first to be a layer of…guacamole? No, on second glance, I decided it must be relish. Much more logical. But it had

me intrigued. How could someone write a whole book about hot dogs? Author Becky Mercuri is a food and travel writer from New York who is also the author of

American Sandwich

. Do you see a pattern here?

I suppose New Mexicans eat as many hot dogs as people in other states, but we have so many other, more celebrated, local specialties that I really didn't expect New Mexico to be represented in the book. Wrong! Becky Mercuri got the Dog House chile dog recipe. I'll spoil the surprise for you right away: They use powdered red chile, not pods. One of my co-workers (a native New Mexican) and I (shout out to my homies in DC!) recently had a friendly disagreement about the relative merits of powdered chile versus pods. He thinks that using powder is an acceptable shortcut to soaking and puréeing whole chile pods. I have told him he will surely go to hell for disrespecting the chile in such a way. But we reached a sort of détente and basically agreed to disagree. I suppose he'll think this revelation will give him just the ammunition he needs to reopen the debate.

New Mexico Red Chile Dogs

Mercuri had the good sense to illuminate her readers about the difference between chile (our state fruit) and chili (what those fruits in Texas eat). She writes: "Note the spelling is chile, not chili, which New Mexico frowns upon as some kind of perverted Tex-Mex soup." She got that right!

New Mexico Chile

This produces a fairly mild chile; if more heat is desired, substitute a portion of the mild chile with pure ground hot New Mexico chile.

Makes about 3 cups

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

2 tablespoons flour

¼ cup pure ground mild New Mexico chile

2 cups quality beef broth

½ teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 pinch ground Mexican oregano

1 pinch ground cumin

1 pound (80 percent lean) ground beef

½ teaspoon pure ground hot New Mexico chile (optional)

In a medium saucepan, heat the bacon drippings over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the chile powder. Return the pan to medium heat and gradually whisk in the beef broth. Add the salt, garlic, oregano and cumin and mix thoroughly. Cook, over medium heat, whisking constantly, for 10 minutes; the mixture will thicken. Add the ground beef to the chile in 4 batches, crumbling it up as it's added to the pan, and stir with a slotted spoon to break up the meat as finely as possible. Simmer the mixture an additional 10 minutes. Stir in the hot chile, if desired, and cook 5 minutes longer.

Assembly

Beef and pork hot dogs, butterflied and grilled

Hot dog buns, toasted

Plain yellow mustard

New Mexico Chile (recipe above)

Grated cheddar cheese

Chopped onion

Place hot dogs in rolls and top with mustard, New Mexico Chile, cheese and onion. Serve immediately.


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